5 differences between lightener and bleach: which one should you choose?

almost platinum

  • Difference 1: the lightener is a specific product used to lighten the hair in a few shades while bleach is one of the ingredients in the mixture used for bleaching.
  • Difference 2: the lightener can be applied on light brown hair, while bleach can be used on darker hair.
  • Difference 3: the lightener lightens light brown hair for techniques such as balayage, while bleaching lightens dark hair only.
  • Difference 4: the lightener can be a shampoo, hair dye, or conditioner. Bleach is a powder, oil, or cream that is mixed with peroxide.
  • Difference 5: bleach is used in a chemical process that can burn the hair, while lighteners are easier and less risky to use.


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Whenever I’m asked about the differences between certain products, I remember a high school history teacher. Why do I remember her?


Because my dear teacher always told us that only by understanding the differences between different cultures, for example, Western and Eastern, we could understand the evolution of historical events.

What does that have to do with the differences between lightener and bleach?


That  only by understanding the differences between these two products that seem the same but are not, will you be able to decide which one to use. 


safe for colored hair

Roughly speaking, a lightener can work perfectly on light brown hair if you want to create highlights. However, it’ll be totally useless on dark hair.

Also, you can use a lightener almost daily, while bleach is much more complex and should be used much less frequently.

So, lighteners are designed to lighten the hair. They may work either progressively, like lightening shampoos, or more quickly, with lightening hair dyes that lighten hair three to four shades.


The bleach is made of a very high alkaline pH that opens the hair cuticle for the peroxide to penetrate the hair structure and bleach the hair pigments. This is why they lighten between 5 and 9 shades.

Do you want to lighten your hair and don’t know if you should use a lightener or bleach?


You can choose bleach or a lightener according to the result you’re looking for and your current hair color.

As my dear teacher used to say, “Know the differences and decide”. Shall we start with the first one?

Tabla de Contenidos


Difference 1: A lightener lightens the hair subtly, while bleach is the mixture of two products to bleach the hair.

to maintain the heat

To put it plainly, if you want to lighten your hair a few shades, and your base is blonde or light brown, you can use a lightener.


  •  If your hair is blonde, you can opt for a lightening shampoo, conditioner, or serum.  Apart from lightening your hair, they’ll also give you luminosity. However, the results will be progressive.


  • If your hair is light brown, lightening hair dyes will help you lighten it up to 3 shades. It can be applied to natural and colored hair.


  •  If your hair is dark, you should use bleach  and mix it with the developer. It degrades the natural color of the hair. They can be powders, creams, or oils and the proportion of the mixture is usually 2 parts oxidant to 1 part bleach.


This brings us to the second difference.


Difference 2: the lightener only works on light hair.

Lighteners are applied on natural or colored hair from level 5 (Light Brown). If your hair is darker, they won’t work.

Meanwhile, the bleach is applied to all hair types, from the darkest to the lightest.


You must be very careful when applying bleach because  it generates a very aggressive chemical reaction in the hair.  Also, the darker your hair is, the more bleaching sessions you’ll need.


Difference 3: lightening allows techniques such as balayage or highlights, but only on lighter hair.

dark roots

Are you dreaming of a balayage on your light brown hair? You’re in luck.


If your hair is light, you can lighten it with a lightener to achieve a balayage or highlights.

This technique will give you a natural look and lots of shine.


If your hair is dark and you want a contrast between the base color and the highlights, you should use bleach. It’s the only product that can strip out the dark pigments in the hair.


Difference 4: many lighteners are for daily use, but bleach is only used from time to time.

before applying it to the hair

If you only want to lighten your light brown or blonde hair a few shades, you have two options according to the health of your hair:

  • If your hair is weak or damaged and you want to lighten a few shades, use shampoos or conditioners because they don’t damage the hair. Of course, they don’t provide immediate results, but progressive ones.
  • If your hair is healthy, frizz-free, and you don’t have split ends, opt for lightening hair dyes. They allow you to lighten your hair up to three shades and also provide color. Of course, the results are immediate.

What options do you have if your hair is dark?


The options are more limited.  You’ll have to use bleach, but only if your hair isn’t damaged. 

Although the bleach lightens up to 9 levels, it’s used in a very aggressive procedure that weakens the hair.


Therefore, if your hair is dark, you want to lighten it many levels, and you believe it may be damaged or feels dry, go to a professional.

Nowadays, products such as Olaplex can be used during bleaching to restore hair health during the process.


Difference 5: lightening products are easier and safer to use.

to lighten hair

Everyday lightening treatments such as shampoos and conditioners are very easy to use. You just need to add them to your daily beauty routine.

They progressively lighten blonde or light brown hair, and give it natural highlights that will revive it.

However, be careful! If your hair is brown and you extend the use, it could get an orange tone. So, I only recommend using it once or twice a week.


In the case of lightening hair dyes, the result will depend on the tone of the lightener and the volume of the oxidant you use. It can be 30 or 40-volumes.  Please strictly follow the manufacturer’s instructions. 

Generally, the procedure consists of applying the contents first on the mid-lengths and ends, leaving it on for 25 to 30 minutes. Then, apply it to the roots and leave it on for 15 minutes.


If your hair is very dark, either natural or colored, you should use a 20 or 30-volume peroxide to achieve a lighter shade.

However, with a 20-volume peroxide, you won’t be able to go from dark hair to very light hair in one bleaching session. In this case, I advise you to repeat the process/ Also, between each session, allow at least fifteen days.


The bleach is applied first on the mid-lengths and ends and, then, on the roots., I believe that bleaching doesn’t have a specific exposure time, but rather a time of observation.

That’s why you should monitor the hair and the bleaching level very carefully.



Now you know the differences between a lightener and bleach. So, you know which one to use on your hair.

  • In short, if your hair has a light base, from light brown to dark blonde, you can use lightening products such as shampoos or hair dyes to lighten all your hair or make some highlights.
  • And if your hair is dark and you want to lighten it, you’ll need to use a bleaching mixture, whether your hair is colored or natural.

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